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The Eucharist: Literal or Figurative?

Question: As a Catholic you believed that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus. How or what changed your mind?

Answer: The Roman Catholic teaching on the physical presence of Jesus in the host is based mainly on the words of Jesus "This is my body...this is the blood of the new covenant". The basic question that we should ask is this: Should we understand Jesus' words literally (as Roman Catholics do) or figuratively (as Protestants do)? (see note) The answer can be determined from the Bible. If Jesus meant to be taken literally, then...

  1. the bread ceases to be bread; the wine ceases to be wine.

  2. the Eucharist is not merely the memorial of His death; it is a sacrifice for sin.

If Jesus meant to be taken figuratively, then...

  1. the bread remains bread; the wine remains wine.

  2. the Lord's supper is a memorial of Christ.

So what does the Bible teach about these things? Does the bread and wine become flesh and blood, or do they remain bread and wine?

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom (Matthew 26:29).

Is the Lord's Supper a sacrifice for sin or a memorial (remembrance)?

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God…Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin (Hebrews 10:12,18).

And when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’ (1 Corinthians 11:24,25).

Personally, it was through the study of the Bible that I became convinced that the bread and wine are sacred symbols of the body that was broken of the cross and the blood that was shed on Calvary for the remission of my sins, for there is no change in substance (bread remains bread, wine remains wine). It is explicitly stated that the supper is "a remembrance" and that there are now no more offering for sin, so the Eucharist could not be a sacrifice for sin.

Since the Eucharistic bread and wine are the remembrance of Christ, every Christian should participate with an attitude of repentance and respect. To eat the bread and drink the cup in a disgraceful manner is a derision and mockery to the body and blood of Christ represented by the elements. Therefore the apostle Paul warns us: "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood" (1 Corinthians 11:27). If someone tramples the flag, he shows disrespect to the nation it represents even though the flag is not literally the nation. Even so, whoever partakes of the bread and wine in an unworthy manner, is guilty of dishonor to the Lord, His body and His blood.

Prayerfully study the biblical teaching on the Eucharist. Even though it is so hard to change your mind about ideas imbued since infancy, the Holy Spirit can give you understanding.

Note Strictly speaking, the Catholic interpretation is not literal, for the Catholic Church does not teach that the bread is the body of Christ or the wine His blood. The bread is said to change into the body of Christ, and though it appears to be bread, it is in fact not bread at all.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi